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Learning the right lessons from turbine failures.

James Dobbin, Principal Engineer at DNV

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a term used widely in industry to cover the many types of investigation of consequential events. The industry has seen a rise in demand for RCA support with many stakeholders speculating that the accelerated turbine development cycles and arms-race for turbine growth may be a contributing factor. In fact, it is well publicized that many leading OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are struggling with profitability,often citing the level of warranty costs as one of the many challenges, indicating that more failures have occurred than expected.

According to DNV’s Energy Transition Outlook, wind energy is set to increase its global primary energy contribution from 1% in 2020 to 13% by 2050. This growth is underpinned by the assumption that the technology performs reliably over its design lifetime and that the supply chain remains in a sustainably profitable position to deliver the required capacity. As many regions start to really ramp up their wind construction programmes, it will be important to observe how the global supply chain will be impacted by various regions pitting themselves against each other for raw materials, installation equipment, and the talent to make the projects a success.

Thorough RCA of the failures experienced today are essential in pushing the industry through this period of growing pains as it sets itself up for the required ramp-up in installations over the coming decades.There is significant value in systematic and thorough RCA as a tool for establishing lessons, maintaining and improving safety, and avoiding a repeat of serious incidents.

The main types of investigation following a failure or catastrophic event can be categorized as being:

  • Root Cause Analysis (RCA): Where there is full cooperation from all parties, including the wind turbine OEM.

  • Apparent Cause Analysis (ACA): Where the OEM is either not willing to share confidential turbine information or is no longer in business.

  • Failure investigation: More focused on what has happened, rather than what caused it.

The motivations behind RCA are varied. All too often (and understandably) the results are sought to enable accountability to be apportioned as the event that has occurred has significant financial consequence. RCA should be viewed as a constructive process whereby all parties cooperate on the basis that valuable lessons can be learnt which may help avoid the recurrence of the event that took place. As a consequence, all parties stand to benefit. In fact, when all parties involved work together constructively, rather than in an adversarial way, the result of the work can be much more successful.

Utilizing the general approach of IEC62740 Edition 1: RCA as the basis for conducting RCA/ACA work can help with avoiding the ‘false hypothesis’ scenario whereby once a hypothesis exists evidence is sought to support it, potentially at the expense of finding evidence that may disprove it. Having a structure to the investigation is vital for this reason.

The main phases to an RCA investigation are described below:

When undertaking RCA/ACA work, ensuring an independent position is vital for the successful outcome of the process, as it will help to avoid any bias or pressure to steer the investigation in a certain direction.

Confidentiality considerations are very important during RCA work, with many parties involved and certain information being confidential. Having the relevant confidentiality agreements in place at the outset of an investigation is key.

Depending on the event being investigated, external interest from media organizations can exist and parties need to consider how statements can be issued so that the conclusions are not misunderstood or misrepresented by media organizations. Review of such statements by non-technical personnel before they are released can be valuable in this situation.

With the anticipated growth of wind assets over the coming decades, a comprehensive and independent view of turbine failures for all stakeholders will likely benefit OEMs, the wider industry, and the society as many nations try to achieve their net zero targets.



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